Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents

George Washington to Barack Obama

Second Edition

Gil Troy

George Washington, Abraham, Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan—most would agree their presidencies were amongst the most successful in American history. But what made these very different men such effective leaders? According to presidential historian Gil Troy, these presidents succeeded not because of their bold political visions, but because of their moderation.

Although many presidential candidates claim to be moderates, the word cannot conceal a political climate defined by extreme rhetoric and virulent partisanship. In this book, Troy argues that this is a distinctly un-American state of affairs. The great presidents of American history have always sought a golden mean—from George Washington, who brilliantly mediated between the competing visions of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, to Abraham Lincoln, who rescued the union with his principled pragmatism, to the two Roosevelts, Theodore and Franklin, who united millions of Americans with their powerful, affirmative, nationalist visions.

“Moderate does not equal namby-pamby, and extremism is not an American norm; instead, the founders celebrated modesty, balance, self-denial, and rationality, none of which seems abundant in politics today. . . . Those sick to death of extremist rhetoric should be assured by Troy’s conclusions.”


“Troy’s mastery of his material and ability to condense it elegantly reflect both deep immersion in his subject and an ability to see forest through trees.”

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Moderation in politics is difficult to achieve in an age of excess—an anything-goes culture feeds an all-or-nothing politics. In the face of challenges both at home and abroad, Troy calls for a muscular moderation, a powerful affirmation of the values that united us and a commitment to a politics that builds from the center rather than playing to extremes.

As America lines up to select its next president, Gil Troy brilliantly reminds us of the finest traditions of presidential leadership from our nation's past.

First time in paperback. Originally published as Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents.

About the Author

Gil Troy, a native of Queens, New York, and professor of history at McGill University, is the author of Mr. and Mrs. President: From the Trumans to the Clintons; Morning in America: How Ronald Reagan Invented the 1980s; Hillary Rodham Clinton: Polarizing First Lady; and See How They Ran: The Changing Role of the Presidential Candidate. He comments frequently about presidential politics on television and radio, as well as in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Boston Globe, among other prominent publications.